Apologies for the poor reproduction if this rather fine brochure, but it's the best I could do with my limited technical know-how. If you want a proper one, please contact the Fry...
Monday, 25 April 2016
Tuesday, 19 April 2016
|Look at them paws! View courtesy Capability Brown|
The first house on the site was built in the 15th century by Richard Verney, a knight. Various extensions and alterations followed, culminating in a major redesign in the modish Classical style, circa 1715, making the present house a contemporary of Blenheim Palace down the road - but much easier to take in if your home is a terraced house in Bristol! Stunning it may be, but it's the kind of place you can imagine being inhabited by actual people rather than giants.
|Lucus Cranach the Elder, Venus and Cupid, c1525 (photo copyright Compton Verney)|
|Pierre-Jacques Volaire, Vesuvius Erupting at Night, C18 (photo copyright Compton Verney)|
|Queen Elizabeth I, British School, c1590 (photo copyright Compton Verney)|
|Village Fete, British School, c1790 (photo copyright Compton Verney)|
|Girl with Cherries, British School, c1820 (photo Compton Verney)|
|Alarming carved wooden pig's head|
You could argue, I suppose, that folk art itself was a phenomenon that evolved out of the tastes and collecting habits of 20th century artists and designers. Like Picasso or Klee, or any number of European artists, they were looking outside the mainstream for inspiration, delighting in strange objects and naive paintings as things of originality in an increasingly uniform world. This is certainly the case with Ravilious in his book 'High Street', which is a compendium of oddities, and it's interesting then to look at the visual echoes of folk art that you see in pop art. I can imagine that Joe Tilson, for one, would have enjoyed carving some of those lovely old shop symbols...
Find out more about Compton Verney here.
Thursday, 7 April 2016
|Christmas at Camelot, screenprint by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Penfold Press 2015|
The story has inspired numerous illustrators over the centuries, from the anonymous artist whose work adorns the original manuscript to Diana Sudyka, whose illustrations accompany Simon Armitage's translation of the text in a 2008 Folio Society edition.
|Illustration of Green Knight's arrival by Anning Bell, 1913|
|Green Knight's arrival, by Juan Wijngaard, 1981|
|Green Knight continues speaking, despite losing head, Illustration from original manuscript, C14|
|The same scene illustrated by Diana Sudyka for the Folio Society, 2008|
|Gawain approaches Sir Bertilak's castle, Cyril Satorsky, Ltd Editions Club, 1971|
|Watch out Gawain! Sir Bertilak's wife, by Diana Sudyka|
|Gawain at the Green Chapel, Lego-style, by Josh Wedin 2007|
|Yikes! The Green Knight by Des Hanley, 2000s|
|The moment of truth for Gawain, Dorothea Braby, Golden Cockerel Press 1952|
There's a whole world of other Gawain-related imagery out there - if anyone wants to share any please comment below. I'll post an image of Clive's new piece as soon as it's published. Meanwhile, for an interesting take on Gawain style, check this out.
Saturday, 26 March 2016
|Eric Ravilious, River Thames at Hammersmith, 1933 (Towner)|
Although he was born in London and lived there on and off through his twenties, Ravilious painted few watercolours of the capital. Fans of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race may recognise the scene, however, as the island lies about halfway along the course, just around the Surrey Bend from Hammersmith Bridge. We are looking from Chiswick Mall over the western end of Chiswick Eyot towards the low-lying land of Barnes.
By 1933, Ravilious and Tirzah were dividing their time between Great Bardfield in Essex, where they shared a house with Edward and Charlotte Bawden, and a flat on Weltje Road, Hammersmith, which overlooked the river a short way downstream of this vantage point. Here the couple held Boat Race parties every spring, particularly enjoying the moment of drama when the thin, pointed prows of the boats first appeared out from under Hammersmith Bridge, with the spreading swarm of little steamers and motor-boats following behind. In 1938 Ravilious designed for Wedgwood a magnificent Boat Race bowl.
Further upstream, Tirzah later recalled, ‘was a barge made into a boat house... and even further along was our landlady Mrs Austin and then Mr Nigel Playfair’s house with its large semi-circle of window... opposite these houses was a little island called the ‘Ey’ or Ait’ which you could visit at low tide’
It was perhaps from the landlady’s window that Ravilious painted a scene that is full of interest. In the foreground a workman gazes upriver, ignoring for the moment the piles of bricks and sand that he is about to build into the slipway one can see today. Beyond him lies the island, one of those low, cigar-shaped accumulations of mud that belong uniquely to the tidal Thames. From it protrude curious tufts of vegetation. They could be rushes, except that the plants on the far left, which are uncut, seem more substantial. Something is certainly being cultivated here, but what?
The Eyot floods at high tide with brackish water, making it useless for most crops but ideal for growing willows such as the shrubby, multi-stemmed osier (Salix viminalis). This fast-growing plant was once vital to fruit growers and market gardeners, who relied on its stems, known as withies, for basket-making. In earlier centuries Chiswick was renowned for its market gardens and, from around 1800, the Eyot was used to cultivate osiers, a practice that continued until the last grower went out of business two years after this painting was made.
Osiers still grow on the island, now a nature reserve. Nearby another longstanding local industry remains very much in business – an industry in which the artist had a considerable interest. Fuller’s Griffin Brewery occupies the same extensive site just behind the artist’s vantage point on Chiswick Mall, as it did in 1933 and has indeed since 1845. Perhaps, as he worked, Ravilious smelled the fragrant hops and looked forward to a pint of London Pride.
This is an excerpt from 'Ravilious in Pictures: A Travelling Artist', published by The Mainstone Press.
Monday, 21 March 2016
|Giorgione, The Tempest, c1506-8|
But of course there are other ways of looking at this. When Peggy Angus visited Soviet Russia in the early 1930s she was struck by the way artworks were arranged at the Hermitage, not by movement but by patron. The artistic identity of different ages was moulded not by the artists but by the people and organisations who paid them - the Christian church in 15th century Italy, or the wealthy burghers of Vermeer's Holland, or the rich men who paid Thomas Gainsborough to paint their women.
This is a bit reductive, but it does make you think. Why, I sometimes wonder, is there such an obsession with progress in art? At any one time the vast majority of artists (and their patrons) are conservative. Techniques evolve, but the wealthy still like to have their portraits painted and London galleries are filled with attractive pictures of landscapes and picturesque places. Meanwhile, the unique expression embodied in a really good painting is likely to be missed, as we pin it to our art history map.
|Titian, Pastoral Concert, c1509|
In strict art historical terms the relationship between these two wonderful artists is debatable. When
he first decided to paint a naked woman, Manet did go off to consult Giorgione, but the painting he studied - 'Pastoral Concert' - has since been attributed to Titian. So he may have tried to be influenced by Giorgione but wasn't, except sort of second-hand, via Titian.
But I think there's a more important connection between these two painters, though divided by the centuries: they both painted pictures that resist being pinned down. In Manet's case I'm talking particularly about 'A Bar at the Folies-Bergere', which I never tire of visiting at the Courtauld Gallery, and in Giorgione's 'The Tempest', aka 'The Soldier and the Gipsy', which I was hoping would be featured in the current RA show, but isn't.
|Manet, Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe, c1862|
It's hard not to feel that there's a story here, but what is it? Is the girl being propositioned? Is she suffering existential ennui? Or is the sinister cove a reference to mortality, Manet himself being close to death? The distorted reflection demands an explanation we can't give, while the young woman's expression is unreadable.
|Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergere, 1874|
So what makes art historians tear their hair out over this charming but innocuous little picture? The absence of a story. Convention tells us that Italian artists of Giorgione's time did not paint anonymous figures in fields - as 19th century French artists did. They painted scenes, mostly from the Bible and sometimes from Classical mythology. A man in a painting other than a portrait was a saint or a Greek god or a hero; a woman was Mary or Venus or a nymph. Yes, there were other, more obscure characters, and some fairly recondite Biblical scenes, but the idea of placing a random person in a landscape was unthinkable.
The business of interpreting this painting has kept generations of scholars busy. One version sees the baby as Dionysos, who is being cared for by his aunt Ino after Zeus killed his mother Semele with a thunderbolt, while Hermes stands by. There's one potential problem with this interpretation, since X-rays show that the male figure was painted over the figure of a second woman, but a classically educated person might well have seen lightning and thought, aha, Zeus. Others see a Christian story here, such as the rest on the flight into Egypt, although the late addition of the male figure is problematic again.
What I love about all this is the fact that so many people have spent so much time looking at this little painting. To my mind, the main reason for studying art history in the broad sense is to get more pleasure out of individual works of art. It's fun to pick out influences and guess at relationships, but in the end it's the looking that counts. And the pleasure of looking.
In the Age of Giorgione is at the RA until June.